A recent password-sharing case that went to the Federal Appeals Court has Netflix users terrified of sharing their passwords and facing jail time. But the good news is that you don’t have to worry about your criminal record – or lack thereof.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act came into the forefront in 1986 and was created primarily to prosecute hackers. However, with technology constantly advancing and becoming more of a prominent role in society today, the act has become very broad and ambiguous.
Earlier this month, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found David Nosal guilty of stealing trade secrets from his former company by accessing a password-protected computer without authorization. He left the firm Korn Ferry International and started his own business that would rival his former company. He still held onto the login credentials of his former assistant and had another employee use them to access proprietary information. The judge found him to be in violation of Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and stated that the case was about password sharing. This statement concerned Netflix users and had them worried about breaking the law.
So what does this have to do with Netflix? The judge in the case stated that anyone who knowingly shares a password could be in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and be prosecuted. And since password sharing is common among Netflix users - and HBO GO users as well – you may be concerned about what the judge’s statement means for you. But you don’t have to worry about breaking a federal law just yet.
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Netflix is fine with you sharing your password. In fact, the company encourages password sharing. According to TechCrunch, Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings said:
“We love people sharing Netflix whether they’re two people on a couch or 10 people on a couch. That’s a positive thing, not a negative thing.”
Many family members share passwords rather than upgrading their account, and that’s fine by Netflix. That’s because when children in those families eventually move out, they tend to purchase their own Netflix subscription, so that hasn’t affected the company’s revenues. Netflix didn’t comment on what the repercussions are when non-family members share an account, but it’s believed that it relies on users becoming addicted to the programming offerings and eventually purchasing their own account.
So how does HBO GO feel about password sharing? Two years ago, HBO CEO Richard Plepler felt strongly in favor of it, viewing it as a “terrific marketing vehicle for the next generation of viewers.” However, HBO NOW was launched last year and the company may now not feel so favorably about moochers. But it’s highly unlikely that HBO would initiate any legal action against users, since that would result in bad PR and lost revenue for the company.
While it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be spending time in the slammer for such as seemingly innocent offense like password sharing, Netflix and HBO GO could use other measures to keep you from sharing your password. There are technical solutions that could limit password use and even prevent it altogether. This would be accomplished using restrictions on concurrent streaming or through geolocation. In fact, streaming limits are already in place by both companies. Netflix limits you to one stream at a time with its basic account, and two concurrent streams with its standard account. HBO GO is vague about its streaming restrictions, but it does appear to have them in place. HBO once announced that it would limit streaming to three devices at one time, but it’s unknown if the company is strictly enforcing that rule.
So if either company does decide to crack down on password sharing, they have the software technology to do so. They likely won’t take you to court, so you can rest easy at night.
It’s important to know that the recent court case and the subsequent ruling was about misuse of passwords in a corporate environment. Korn Ferry International required employees to sign an agreement stating that passwords were to be kept confidential and not shared with anyone else. Netflix and HBO GO are for consumer use, which is much different because there are no trade secrets at stake when you share your password. So unless you signed a confidentiality agreement when you signed up for your video streaming service – which is highly unlikely – you should feel comfortable using your subscription like you did in the past without fear of prosecution - for now anyway.
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